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Full text of "Why I Joined the Social Democratic League"

Why I Joined the 
Social Democratic League 

by Allan L. Benson 

Published in The New Appeal, whole no. 1,183 (Aug. 3, 1918), pg. 1. 



The editor of The New Appeal [Emanuel Haldeman-Julius] 
asks me to write an article telling why I joined the Social Demo- 
cratic League. 

Primarily, I joined the League for the same reason that years 
ago I joined the Socialist Party — because I am a Socialist. I am 
not aware that my allegiance to International Socialism has ever 
wavered. I am in as hearty agreement today with the Socialist 
Party, so far as its economic philosophy is concerned, as ever I 
was. I left the Socialist Party and joined the Social Democratic 
League because I do not agree with the party in its attitude to- 
ward the war and do agree with the League. 

When I joined the Socialist Party I entered into no engage- 
ment in the event of war with Germany to do what I could to 
weaken the striking power of the United States while the Ger- 
man Socialists were doing all they could to increase the striking 
power of Germany. 



The Social Democratic League believes in increasing the 
striking power of the United States. We who are members of the 
League share the view of [Karl] Liebknecht that the war was 
launched by the militarists and the imperialists of Germany. The 
Socialist Party, however, shares the view of [Philipp] Scheide- 
mann and his followers that all of the belligerents were and are 
equally guilty. I regard this as nonsense. The former German 



ambassador to England has certified that England did her best 
to avert strife and that Germany did all she could to bring war. 

Germany started out with a lie on her lips to raid the world. 
With her bloody arms full of booty she still refuses to give up 
her stolen goods, pay for the damage she has done, and go 
home. The Socialist Party of the United States declares it is in 
favor of peace without annexations, but it makes no effective 
move to prevent Germany from compelling annexations. Morris 
Hillquit refused to buy a Liberty bond, yet without money there 
could be no fighting, and without fighting there could be no 
peace without annexations. [Victor] Berger demanded the with- 
drawal of the American army in Europe, yet without an Ameri- 
can army in Europe, there would be a smashing German victory 
that would drive the United States into the very jaws of milita- 
rism in self-defense. 



I am a Socialist, but I cannot stand for these things. I am so 
much interested in Socialism that I want this war to end in such 
a manner that a Socialist government when established can exist. 
What would be the use of working for Socialism in the United 
States if the bloody boots of the Kaiser, von Hindenberg, and 
von Tirpitz were upon the necks of France, England, and Ger- 
many? Everybody knows what the Kaiser thinks of Socialists. He 
hates them, of course, and has said so again and again. If he had 
conquered Europe and taken over the French and English fleets, 
he would hardly be expected to tolerate a Socialist Republic in 
the United States, even if the Socialist Party could establish one. 
I want the war to end in such a manner that when people any- 
where shall see fit to establish Socialist governments they will 
not be set upon by brutal autocracies. 

Regardless of all that the Germans and the pro-Germans 
may say against England, I should not be afraid to trust her. 
England, without the slightest protest, has permitted Australia 
and New Zealand to establish working class governments. Eng- 
land is as democratic as the United States and in some respects 



more so. Socialists need not fear England — or France. But a 
world-conquering Germany would sound the death-knell of the 
present Socialist movement throughout the world. It might rise 
again in five hundred or a thousand years, but for centuries 
there would be no such thing in the world as self-government. 
Let it be established that democratic government cannot suc- 
cessfully defend itself against autocratic government and there 
will be no more democratic government for a long while. 

The Social Democratic League looks at these matters as I do. 
The League is a Socialist league, with the interests of Socialism 
at heart. The Socialist Party of the United States appears to be 
neutral in this war, and sometimes the effect of its neutrality has 
a tendency to help Germany. The League is not neutral. It is 
American. Its greatest desire is that the war shall end in such a 
manner that the world will be safe, not only for democracy but 
for social democracy. 



Another reason why I joined the Social Democratic League 
is because I wish to take part in organized Socialist propaganda 
without being compelled to carry the handicap of the Socialist 
Party's bad reputation. 

I can work as a member of the Social Democratic League 
without first being required to answer questions as to whether I 
agree with Hillquit that no one should buy Liberty bonds, or 
with Berger that the American army should be withdrawn from 
Europe. 

The mere fact that I am a member of the Social Democratic 
League is notice to all and sundry that, while I am a Socialist, I 
do not agree with Hillquit and Berger with regard to the war. 

Inasmuch as Hillquit and Berger are very cordially hated 
throughout the United States, the task of advocating Socialism 
is much simplified by separating it from Hillquit and Berger. 

And why should there not be such a separation? Hillquit and 
Berger are not Socialism. I do not have to endorse them to en- 
dorse it. Each of them has strayed far from the field of Social- 



ism. I do not know that even Scheidemann ever demanded 
withdrawal of the German army from France or refused to buy a 
German war bond. On the contrary Scheidemann has voted for 
every bond issue, knowing that each bond issue was intended to 
provide the funds with which to keep the German armies in 
France. 

When Hillquit and Berger out Scheidmann Scheidemann I 
decline to accept their pronouncements on Socialism. I turn to 
the Social Democratic League in its agreement with Liebknecht 
that the Kaiser and what he stands for should be put down. 

I am interested in the success of the League because I fear 
that unless the League hall become firmly established during the 
war, there will be nothing left after the war to represent Social- 
ism in the United States. 



All except the blind can see what is happening to the Social- 
ist Party, last year there was a little flush of fever that was mis- 
taken for health, but the flush lasted no longer than it was nec- 
essary for the new "Socialists" to realize that the party could not 
stop the war, and now the party is as pale as a ghost. The party 
organ [ The American Socialist] has all but faded away, and the 
New York Call is rapidly following in its wake. 1 Party meetings 
in New York are very poorly attended. Party members expect a 
poor vote this fall, though of this I am not so sure, although 
Hillquit s ridiculous vote in New York will not of course be ap- 
proximated. But i believe the vote will decline to the end of the 
war and then collapse. It can hardly do otherwise. The party is 
hopelessly discredited before the American people. Moreover, it 
has lost nearly all of the agencies it once had for reaching the 
people. Of all the writers who once urged the cause of the So- 
cialist Party and reckoned millions, not one remans. The Social- 
ist Party has not a writer left who has or ever had an audience of 
respectable size. Even Lucien Sanial, the gray-haired old patri- 



1 Owing to the Wilson administration's banning of both these newspapers from 
the mails, it must be added. 



arch who always used to sit on the stage at Madison Square 
Garden, New York, at Socialist meetings and receive the plaudits 
of the younger generation, has resigned from the party, not be- 
cause he is no longer a Socialist, but because he is too much of a 
Socialist to remain in a party dominated by Hillquit and Berger. 



I went out of the Socialist Party and into the Social Demo- 
cratic League for the same general reason that 20 years ago Debs 
and others went out of the Socialist Labor Party and into the 
present Socialist Party. 2 Debs felt that the old organization was 
not well adapted to the propagation of Socialism, because of cer- 
tain shortcomings and inefficiencies. I feel that the Socialist 
Party is not well adapted to the propagation of Socialism for rea- 
sons that I have here and elsewhere tried to make plain. I go 
into the Social Democratic lLeague because, so far as its Socialist 
faith is concerned, it stands for what I have always stood and 
still stand, in addition the League takes what I conceive to be 
the proper position toward the war. The League takes a position 
that enables a member of it to advocate Socialism not only with 
self-respect, but with the respect of the public. 

And there is little use of trying to do anything in this world 
without the respect of the public. It is easy enough to point to 
William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, and Wendell Phillips as 
unpopular exponents of a cause that afterward became popular. 
An unpopular cause becomes popular only when it becomes 
generally apparent that the cause is right. Who hopes to live 
long enough to see the people of this country declare that Berger 
and Hillquit and the Socialist Party of America were right in 
their views as to the world war? Whoever has such hopes but 
deceives himself when he indulges them. So long as Berger, 
Hillquit, and the present American Socialist Party are remem- 



2 Eugene V. Debs was never a member of the Socialist Labor Party. He was first a 
Democrat, then a member of the People's Party, then a member of the Social 
Democracy of America, a faction of which split to become the Social Democratic 
Party of America. It was this organization that was one of the principles in the 
formation of the Socialist Party of America in 1901 . 



bered they will be remembered as having gone wrong in the 
great war. I am willing to rest the case of the Socialists who left 
the Socialist Party and launched the Social Democratic League 
to the judgment of history. Form the first moments at St. Louis 
we tried to keep the party right as we saw the right. Never then 
nor since have we recanted our beliefs in Socialism as we have 
always understood and still understand it. Nor have we ever for 
a moment been guilty of maintaining an attitude of neutrality 
during this war. Regarding Germany as the aggressor we have 
been [and to the] shall be end against her. 3 



[We have] not the remotest idea what the Social Democratic 
League is destined to [amount] to. 4 It is an attempt to organize 
the Socialist sentiment of the United States upon a self- 
respecting basis. If we have not the wit to organize it, others will 
do so. The sentiment covers the land as the sunshine mantles the 
earth. Organized it will become effective. But it can never be 
organized by those who, because of their war attitude, are so de- 
spised that the truth, uttered by them, is received as if it were a 
lie. When the administration is compelled to take steps against 
what it calls the "mob spirit," even the present leaders of the So- 
cialist Party should be able to perceive that the people of the 
United States have only unutterable hatred of anything and eve- 
rything in this country at this time that is mild to Germany and 
harsh to America. 



Edited with footnotes by Tim Davenport 

1000 Flowers Publishing, Corvallis, OR • June 2012 • Non-commercial reproduction permitted. 



3 Text on original document obscured by mailing label, best guess in brackets. 

4 Text on original document obscured by mailing label, best guess in brackets. 

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